This Torah portion is always read near the 5th day in the Hebrew month of Teves, the day that the Lubavitcher Rebbe declared to be a holiday for Jewish books.

The library which the Rebbe Rayatz, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had assembled for the sake of the chassidic community had been misappropriated on the claim that it was personal property of the Rebbe Rayatz. The matter was taken to Federal Court and during the hearings, the Rebbe’s wife, the daughter of the Rebbe Rayatz explained: “Not only the library, but also the Rebbe, belong to the chassidim.” This position was accepted by the court who ruled that in fact the library was the communal property of the chassidic community.

When that ruling was rendered, the chassidic community celebrated. But the Rebbe emphasized that the celebrations should focus on having a lasting effect. In that vein, he asked that people use the energy of the holiday to augment their Jewish libraries.

Parshas Vayigash

Imagine how they must have felt. Twenty-two years ago, they had sold their brother into harsh slavery. He had begged them for mercy and they had turned a deaf ear to his pleas. Now they were standing in front of him. Moreover, they must have felt more than shame and embarrassment. The brother that they had sold to slavery was now the most powerful man in the world and their future was in his hands.

But Joseph, the brother who had been sold into slavery, did everything to reassure them that he held no grudge, telling them: “Do not be distressed and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here.... You will be near to me... and I will provide for you.”

Joseph was not “turning the other cheek.” Instead, he also explained his rationale to his brothers: “It was not you who sold me here, but G‑d.” “He sent me ahead of you... for great deliverance.” Joseph understood that his brothers could not have done anything independently. Everything, even the fluttering of a leaf in the wind, is controlled by Divine providence. Certainly, that is true with regard to those individuals who were destined to perpetuate the legacy of Abraham. Joseph thus understood that his brothers were G‑d’s agents and were executing His will. G‑d had wanted him sent to Egypt and his brothers had done no more than execute the Divine will.

Nevertheless, one may ask: It is true that the ultimate intent to send Joseph into Egypt was G‑d’s. Nevertheless, man has free choice. No one had forced the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave. Certainly, had they not sold him, G‑d would have found a way to send him to Egypt. Thus although Joseph did not have to blame them for having sold him, he did not have to reward them. They had made a wrong choice, acting cruelly and reprehensibly. Why did Joseph treat them so kindly?

The first part of the answer has to do with developing a more complete understanding of the nature of Divine providence. By saying something happens because of Divine providence, we are not implying that one should merely grin and bear it. Instead, he should be genuinely happy, because everything that G‑d does is for the good. G‑d is the ultimate of good; it is impossible that He will do anything that is not good. This should endow a person with the confidence and security of knowing that he is being led down a path that will lead him to the most complete benefit possible.

Joseph understood this. He realized that everything that happened to him from the time he was sold onward was an expression of Divine kindness. In his instance, this was overtly revealed. He rose to a position of power and authority in a manner that could only have been granted by Divine favor.

Nevertheless, this is only part of the resolution. It explains G‑d’s part of the equation, but not man’s. In Joseph’s case his brothers treated him harshly. Similarly, each one of us has instances where he feels that he has been wronged or mistreated. While it is true that he should not become upset or vindictive, why should he reward evil with good?

The answer has to do with looking beneath the surface — not only in the deeds that happen to us and seeing their Divine impulse — but also in the people who perform those deeds and perceiving their Divine core. Every person is basically good. At his core lies a Divine spark. His life is a series of attempts to bring this Divine potential to the surface. It’s true that at times, we make mistakes. But Joseph and the people who follow his legacy do not focus on those negative points. Instead, they are aware of the positive inner potential in others even when it is hidden and work to fan it into revelation.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Torah reading relates that Jacob was afraid when he has about to leave Eretz Yisrael and descend to Egypt. G‑d reassured him, promising that Jacob’s body — and ultimately all of his descendants — would be taken from Egypt back to the Holy Land. Jacob understood what it meant to leave the Holy Land and he was not prepared to do so unless he received G‑d’s promise that his descendants would not remain in exile forever.

There is a purpose in descending into exile, for in exile, one can accomplish a lot, for oneself and for the world at large. Nevertheless, that descent should be viewed as being only temporary; a Jew should realize that his true place is Eretz Yisrael — and not Eretz Yisrael as it exists today, but as the land will exist in the era of Mashiach. That is what we are hoping for and that is the goal to which we should direct our lives.

As such, we should never feel at home in exile. Even though we have a comfortable home, friends, and a livelihood, this is not the purpose of our lives and this should not bring us true satisfaction. Instead, we should be future-oriented and look forward to the era when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.”